Christmas Isn’t Merry When You’re #Estranged

christmas

Unmerry Christmas

Christmas. It’s that time of year when everyone is a little sappier, happier, and love seems to fill the air. It’s a time for friends and family, to celebrate the memories of the last year. Yet for many people, Christmas is a time of sadness and of longing. It’s a time of mourning relationships gone by and of remembering people who are no longer here. And for some, it’s a time that simply reminds them that they’ve been cast aside by those they love.

This will be the second Christmas I am estranged from my two daughters. I know there will be no cards in the mail, no text messages coming from them. They’ve made the decision that they don’t want anything to do with their dad.

That’s the choice they’ve made.

Honestly, since everything went down, I dread the holiday season. Actually, my dread begins in early November, my birthday month, and runs through the first of the year. Last year I didn’t put up a tree or hang lights on the house. This year, though, the tree is up and there are some lights on the house. In fact, that’s my tree in the photo accompanying the post. I made the decision to at least try to whip up some Christmas spirit despite my generally blue mood.

The jury is still out on whether it’s working or not…

At least I’m trying.

Smacked Right In The Face

When your world turns upside down, sticking with ‘traditions’ can make your depression worse. Memories of how things used to be can keep you trapped in your sadness and prevent you from enjoying the good things in your life.

Trust me, I know.

Last weekend we went to church for the first time in a long time. I absolutely love the advent season and everything it represents. Walking into the church, I was immediately overwhelmed with a sense of sadness. I looked around, saw the Chrismon tree, the greens hung from the rafters, and when the congregation started singing the Christmas carol processional, it was all I could do to keep from breaking down in tears.

The most maddening thing about being estranged from my daughters is that there isn’t a moment that goes by that I don’t miss them. Not a moment goes by where something triggers a memory that causes my heart to ache. I’ve come to accept that that empty feeling is not ever going away…and dammit, those dad/daughter commercials are my kryptonite!

Beat The Christmas Blues

So, what’s a person to do?

  1. Talk it out
    A few weeks ago, I began a series of videos called Estranged on YouTube. It’s a way for me to talk about my struggles, to reach out to others, and to offer advice on how I cope. This has been pretty therapeutic. The catharsis of letting out what I’ve been holding in has allowed me to breathe and process what I had been avoiding. Talking it out, whether with someone you trust, or via a blog, video, or podcast, helps you to release the sense of shame that goes along with being an estranged parent.
  2. Start New Traditions
    Hanging on to old traditions, hoping things will be like they used to be, is totally unhealthy. Why not start some new traditions? Go see a movie or a play. If the weather permits, take a hike or visit the beach. Start your journey to healing by finding something you enjoy and do it.
  3. Practice Gratitude
    It’s easy to focus on what is missing during this season. Instead, focus on the abundance currently in your life. Start a gratitude journal and at the end of every day, write down at least 3 things you’re grateful for. Do this for a month and watch how your worldview changes.
  4. Find A Community
    There are a jillion online and off-line communities of people experiencing the same struggle you are. Find them. Connect with them. Share your story with them. You’ll find having the support of others will help you feel less alone in your down times.
  5. Ease Up On The Booze
    Alcohol is a depressant. Although we like to believe we drink to forget, drinking only makes depression worse. It’s ok to have a drink or two to celebrate or with a meal. Just don’t let 1 or 2 turn into 9 or 10 as a way to cope. Besides, almost nobody loves a slobbering drunk.
  6. Don’t Give Up
    If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t think you can go on, or are contemplating suicide, Call 1-800-273-8255, the National Suicide Hotline right away. The world needs you and your awesomeness.

Finally….

You can do this. You will get through this.

You’ll have good days and bad days, to be sure, but it will get better.

I promise.

Imperfect Times Make The Best Memories

imperfect

Imperfect Memories

The imperfect times. Sure, we all can remember the good times, but what makes the strongest memories? What events do we laugh about for decades after they happen?

My wife and I were watching Black-ish the other night, and it was all about trying to make the perfect Christmas memories. The oldest daughter was heading off to college and the dad wanted to make Christmas special because it was their last one.

Now, this being a sitcom, you can imagine how it turned out….with the Christmas tree catching on fire and everything. Yes, Christmas had turned into a complete sh*tstorm.

But at the end of the show, the dad said one thing:

When perfect goes wrong, those are the memories that last forever.

How true is this?

Years ago, I’m talking the early 80’s, my grandmother bought an RV for $900. She decided that over spring break, we would take a big family road trip from Michigan to Colorado to Las Vegas and back. Now, just on its face, this is an insane idea. Over a dozen people crammed into a small RV for a week travelling over 5000 miles.

You know what I remember from that trip?

  • Waking up to my mom driving on the median in the middle of a blizzard.
  • Freaking out we weren’t going to make it up Wolf Creek Pass.
  • Having to have someone outside the bathroom because it automatically locked you in.
  • Having to hold the fridge shut every time we turned right.
  • Losing a fan belt 14 miles outside of Las Vegas
  • Losing a thermostat in the middle of nowhere Arizona
  • Getting a flat tire just as we crossed into Michigan
  • My cousins teasing cows in a trailer and having them fling poo on them with their tails.

 

Quit stressing yourself out!

I’m sure there were other things that happened during the trip, but these are the ones my cousins and I talked and laughed about for years afterwards.

It’s the imperfect times that made the best memories.

Too often we stress ourselves out over trying to create perfection. Whether it’s a wedding, birthday, vacation, or just a dinner date, we stress about every single detail. Then, when things don’t match the image we’ve imagined, we feel like we’re a failure.

Learn to relax and live in the moment. Enjoy everything about the experience: the good, the bad, and the complete disaster.


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Sometimes Victory Is Just Showing Up

victory

The most super-awesome victory looks like a tiny victory.

When I started this morning’s post, this isn’t at all the subject it was going to be about. Perhaps I’ll save that for another edition of the Hot Mess Express podcast (shameless plug…go and subscribe now…trust me, it’s awesome). Yet as they say…the best laid plans of mice and men…and I had a, well, not sure you could call it a dialogue, but a conversation with someone over FB this morning that pretty much derailed all that.

In the past 18-24 months, more has happened than I think any normal human should ever have to deal with. It’s been rumors, innuendo, backstabbing, anger, bitterness, and hurt feelings all around. I’ve been just as guilty as others. Top that off with having one of your kids hauled off in handcuffs and sent to a mental health facility for a week over Easter weekend, the challenges of helping your kid in coping with mental illness, and seeing another one of your children move out too soon and, well, I’m surprised I’m not a raging drunk or just curled up in the fetal position somewhere, worthless to anyone and anything.

Some awesome life, eh?
Well, my intention was to be real, raw, and uncensored, and this is a peek into my vulnerability, the challenges, the struggles, the abject fucking failures I’ve been through in just the last 24 months.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last couple years is that sometimes just showing up can be your greatest victory.

Today’s one of those days for me.

This will be the first year ever that I won’t be spending Christmas with either of my daughters. This realization has been tough on me, and I’ll be honest, dealing with this hasn’t made me the cheeriest person on the planet to be around. I’ve been cranky, short-tempered, alternating with mopey and sad.

Today, I’m barely holding my shit together to make it through the work day.

If I can make it to the end of the day without losing my fucking shit, that will be my victory.

Somedays….that’s all you can really expect from yourself…and that’s enough.
If you set the expectation that every. single. day. you’re going to slay the dragon, save the prince/princess, and become ruler of the goddamned universe, you’re in for a world of hurt. Neither you nor I can reasonably expect to do that.

Sometimes emotions come along and punch you right in the teeth, demanding to be acknowledged.
Sometimes we’re just angry or sad…sometimes we know why and sometimes we don’t.

It’s those days when victory looks like being dressed, and brushing my teeth.

As of this moment, it’s almost lunch time, and I’ve only been in tears 3 times….that’s less than once per hour so far.

I’ll take that as a victory.

3 Simple Ways To Deal With Toxic Family

Toxic Family

Toxic family can be the most potent poison. From the time you’re born, your family, their words, actions, and beliefs shape the person you become. Some of this is intentional, and most of it is totally unintentional. In fact, it falls under the umbrella of “we’ve always done it that way”. Your parent’s beliefs were shaped by their parents, and their parent’s beliefs were shaped by their parents, and so on and so on.

Toxic Family

Now, while your beliefs, and that bullshit story we all tell ourselves, was formed by our families at a very early age, that doesn’t mean that you can just lay all the blame at their feet for the way your life turned out. As you got older, and your knowledge of the world around you expanded, you became more and more responsible for making your own decisions.

So, let’s assume for the moment that you’ve identified your toxic beliefs and are making progress towards changing and eliminating them. Family, who should be your loudest cheering squad, who have always said they want ‘what’s best’ for you, are most likely to be your biggest critics.

The reason for this is simple, when you change, the way others have to interact with you has to change, and people generally hate change. They’d rather you stay in the box they’re comfortable with. You changing shines sunlight on those things about themselves they don’t like and have chosen to ignore for years. This can lead to family relationships changing into toxic family relationships.

Dealing With Toxic Family

While there will be family members who will cheer you on and celebrate your progress, there will be those who won’t. They’ll actively seek to sabotage your progress, torpedo your self esteem, and pull the rug out from under you all in an effort to make themselves feel comfortable.

How can you minimize the impact these toxic family members have on your life?

  1. Don’t Tell Them What You’re Doing
    There’s an internet motto that says “don’t feed the trolls”. If you have toxic family members who constantly criticize, condescend, or offer backhanded compliments, just quit telling them what you’re doing. You’re not going to gain their approval no matter how much you wish you would, so why subject yourself to their negativity?
  2. Block Them From Your Social Media Feeds
    If you quit telling family what you’re doing, it’s guaranteed that some will mine your social media feeds for information. People who criticize and gossip are like addicts. They’ll do anything to feed their fix, and that includes silently stalking your online presence.
  3. Walk Away
    Sometimes the best thing is to walk away. This isn’t easy and it should be a last resort. You are awesome and you have the right to build the life you want. Surround yourself with only positive people and see how quickly you progress!

In order to best serve those around you, you have to take care of yourself first. Sometimes that means walking away from those toxic family members. It’s not easy and it’s a process a lot like losing someone, but in the end it’ll be worth it.